Tunnel vision

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Sometimes, when you’re inside a group or organization, that group’s interests take on an importance far beyond anything else.

Take part in a service organization, and you might find yourself embroiled in a huge discussion over whether a motion is in order, or whether the rules were properly followed when the last slate of the executive was elected.

Small things can completely overwhelm an organization, leaving it expending tremendous amounts of scarce energy — and sometimes finances as well — arguing over issues as esoteric and unnecessary as determining how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

And that brings us to the House of Assembly, and last week’s filibuster.

Filibusters are a particularly stylized portion of political business: unable to bring about functional change through the normal processes of government, opposition parties instead decide to jam a stick in the procedural spokes.

Instead of letting the debate on a bill chug along through the normal process, opposition parties either propose row after row of amendments, or more simply, refuse to stop talking about the bill in question.

Governments are then left with two options: either let the opposition members talk themselves out, or else impose closure, stopping the debate and allowing themselves to be accused of all manner of anti-democratic sins.

The politicians themselves — and often the political reporters covering the events — get caught up, sometimes almost giddily, in the process. Up all night — refusing to stop debating. It’s a rite of passage for new politicians and reporters, some sprouting whiskers and others sporting unkempt clothes, a kind of legislative call to arms where surviving the event is a measure of your depth of experience.

But in terms of the world of measurable results, a filibuster — especially in this province’s political system — is, more than anything else, a waste of time.

What has the filibuster changed? Nothing. What did all that time talking actually achieve? Nothing again, except to point out once again that the House of Assembly allows ignorant behaviour that would be deemed abusive bullying in any other workplace in this province.

Sure, you can put the best face on it and talk about how the issue was fully brought into the public eye, but that’s only window dressing.

It was many, many exhausting hours for a select few MHAs and political reporters. But in the end result, the symbolic opposition was watched by few, ignored by many, and, in terms of its actual result, could easily be classed as a complete waste of time.

And it’s the second time this year we’ve sat through this particular theatre.

We need to improve the way this province’s legislature works. Having government simply trot out legislation, consider no changes to its road map and have debate consist merely of government members talking about how great their government is — while the opposition, well, opposes — does not create better legislation.

We need the best we can get.

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  • Steve
    December 27, 2012 - 18:00

    I think what the editorial writer was getting at is that the legislature can actually operate more productively and address real issues if it was set up differently. In other provinces, legislation goes before a committee, where it is examined clause by clause, prior to going to the full house. This would occur out of the glare of the spotlight around a committee table, and it usually results in much more productive discussion among MHAs. Quite often, legislation comes out differently than it went in, and it is a much better quality product before it goes to the debate/vote in the full house, and therefore better legislation. Sadly, we don't have a tradition of doing this in NL. Premier Dunderdale unfortunately is satisfied with the status quo, so we won't see it any time soon. It's the kind of thing that would take real leadership to change.

  • Cyril Rogers
    December 27, 2012 - 15:15

    Whether a waste of time or not, and it was their own time they were spending, it was both necessary and a duty of the members of opposition parties. We condemn them when they accede to government's majority, like when the mill was expropriated, yet they get pilloried by some when they do oppose. My concern, as Maurice stated, is that they had ample time to take a principled stand months ago, based on ample knowledge that this is a deeply-flawed project. It is a colossal waste of money for such a minor return bout who cares...we, the consumers will pay. Actually, it will cause grave harm to our fiscal situation, as we will have far less money available to spend or save going forward. People need to realize that this is going to drain billions from our treasury every year for the next several years while we gain very little by way of power. The politicians of all parties seem unaware of that harsh reality.

  • It was a Joke
    December 27, 2012 - 10:49

    It was a complete waste of time. It was another page in the ongoing drama of Newfie politics. Where all the members put on an act of how they are standing up for the people but behind closed doors they work together to make things as easy as possible for themselves. Yes sir, they all talked about working through Christmas (wink, wink) - that didn't happen. Kind of like how they were serious about public spending while working together to hide the constituency spending scandal. It always has been, and always will be, the poilitcians against the public. The party lines are just for show.

  • W Bagg
    December 27, 2012 - 10:03

    I beg to differ. We all knew the legislation would pass, however the fillibuster brought attention to government. That in itself is positive and this column is evidence to it. I believe the public learned valuable information about the bill, that would not have been noticed especially prior to Christmas. It even gave us more insight to a few MHA's and will help in deciding who to vote for in the next election. I guess, it's a matter of perspective whether you think it was a valuable exercise. Remember, "the Opposition gets its' say and the government gets its' way" ALWAYS

  • Maurice E. Adams
    December 27, 2012 - 09:02

    The only benefit was that for the few that followed the event and had not already acquired a reasonable understanding of the some of the problems and risks associated with Muskrat Falls, it no doubt was somewhat helpful. But on the whole, it was --- too little, too late. The process, the hidden tax, the rationale, the decision to proceed with Muskrat Falls had effectively been made years ago ---- and all this about "not yet sanctioned" was disingenuous and disrespectful of voters/citizens/ratepayers. Government should be ashamed of itself and the opposition was weak and should have done much, much more --- many, many months, and even years, earlier. Not a good year for NL democracy. The premier said that this was the "fortunate generation" ---- because it will be future generations that will pay the price.